Column: Malone

Loving the cold

Welcome to ‘The Big Freeze’, which is as cold as its name implies. And while you might think me daft, in a lot of ways The Netherlands has never been better, because winter weather gives us new ways to enjoy life. A temperature of -23 was recorded in the village of Markenesse in Flevoland (east of Amsterdam) on the night of Friday, February 3 – the coldest temperature recorded in the Netherlands this century. If this keeps up, we’ll get to see an Elfstedentocht, or ‘Eleven cities tour’, a Dutch speed skating competition that is the longest in the world, held in Friesland in winter if it gets cold enough. This only happens every 15 years or so, and since the last Elfstedentocht was in 1997, we’re probably due – and some of the Dutch are absolutely giddy. Speed skating is a beloved sport in a country that is flat and cold and snow-less enough that skating has actually been a way to get around since the 17th century. My Dutch friends tell me that the hotels are already booked all along the route, and if you even want to see the race then you need to go early, because half the Netherlands will be alongside the rivers and canals cheer the participants along the 200km route. The Dutch meteorological service predicted 25cm of ice along the route on Sunday February 5, and since only 15cm of ice is required, it giet oan! (‘it is on!’ in Frisian).

We’re also finally getting a bit of snow, which leads me to ask: is snow a great part of winter, or the greatest part of winter? I’m from Alaska, and I love the snow. It gives the world a muffled stillness, a quiet beauty, and even asks you to slow down and appreciate it. This is especially true in the Netherlands, where just a few centimeters of snow brings life to a crawl, if not a full stop. As an Alaskan, I find this pretty humorous: during winter in Alaska drivers are going 100 kilometers an hour on the highway, just as they do in summer. But I hope everyone is appreciating the snow too, even though they’re also probably cursing it for dragging out their daily commutes. Sure the trains stop, drivers panic and biking is a pain – so this weekend, don’t worry about getting around. Forget about clubbing in Rotterdam. The museums in Amsterdam will still be there a couple weeks from now. Take some time to enjoy your town in a way you might not get to again, especially if you’re an international student – many of us have either never seen snow or have never felt so at home. Have a snowball fight. Stomp out a note for your friends on the 15th floor. Take cool pictures. Go ice skating. And afterwards, come inside and enjoy a hot chocolate – I swear it tastes better after being out in the cold.

Devin Malone, a recent MSc graduate in industrial ecology, is from Anchorage, Alaska.